Friday, July 12, 2013

In Theaters: PACIFIC RIM (2013)

(US - 2013)

Directed by Guillermo del Toro.  Written by Travis Beacham and Guillermo del Toro.  Cast: Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, Rinko Kikuchi, Charlie Day, Ron Perlman, Clifton Collins, Jr., Burn Gorman, Max Martini, Rob Kazinsky, Santiago Segura, Brad William Henke, Robin Thomas. (PG-13, 131 mins)

While squarely in the confines of "huge summer blockbuster," fantasy auteur Guillermo del Toro makes a concerted effort to put PACIFIC RIM in the realm of his distinct cinematic universe.  The colors, the production and costume design, the creatures...all have that vivid del Toro feel, but when it's all over, it's still just another example the same kind of gargantuan big-screen destruction porn you'd find in any random summer multiplex colossus, with the similar fast, video-gamey editing (though not to the extreme degree) that causes your eyes to glaze over like most of the second half of MAN OF STEEL and almost all of STAR TREK: INTO DARKNESS.  PACIFIC RIM gets a nice boost from the heart and soul put into it by del Toro, who dedicates the film to monster masters Ray Harryhausen and Ishiro Honda, but it also stands as an example of the struggle filmmakers like del Toro face when they're given $200 million to spend on pet projects:  del Toro gets enough of "del Toro" in there to keep the fans who've followed him in the 20 years since CRONOS from crying "Sellout!", but once the CGI overload kicks into high gear in the second half, I dunno...I just kinda checked out.

In the near future, alien creatures known as kaiju burrowed up from beneath the Earth and attacked major world cities.  The governments of the world set aside their differences to work together, building giant robots called jaegers, controlled by the body movements and thoughts of two military pilots stationed in the head, their minds melded by a process called "drifting," to attack and defeat them before they reach the shorelines.  Within five years, the jaegers are a triumphant force, with jaeger pilots being treated like global rock stars, but the evolving kaiju begin to anticipate their actions.  The jaeger program's decline starts when cocky ace pilot Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) loses his co-pilot/older brother in a battle.  Seven years pass, and Raleigh, living on his own and picking up construction jobs, is called back to service by his jaeger commander Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) for one last hurrah before the faltering program is terminated by the UN:  working with dweeby, motor-mouthed comic relief scientist Dr. Geiszler (Charlie Day), Pentecost has a plan to nuke the breach between the center of the earth and the tunnel burrowed by the kaiju.  Things get complicated when Geiszler attempts to "drift" with part of a still-living kaiju brain, enabling him to get a first-hand look at the kaiju memories where he finds out their true origin and purpose.

I have to admit that in the weeks leading up to PACIFIC RIM's release, I wasn't enthused.  It looked too much like a mega-budget take on Stuart Gordon's 1990 cult classic ROBOT JOX. But...so far, so good.  The script by del Toro and Travis Beacham (the 2010 remake of CLASH OF THE TITANS) displays much imagination and wit in the early-going, and that continues with the introduction of Hunnam's SONS OF ANARCHY nemesis and frequent del Toro star Ron Perlman (CRONOS, HELLBOY) as a black-market kaiju remains dealer named Hannibal Chau.  Chau conducts his shady business in a Hong Kong red-light district called The Bone Slums, constructed around the skeletal remains of a long-dead kaiju.  These are very creative, inspired, and distinct del Toro touches (the look and color scheme of The Bone Yards had me wishing more of the film took place there).  But once the "nuke the breach" plot is set in motion, del Toro hands the film off to the CGI teams for one showdown after another.  Some of them have very cool touches (Raleigh "drifts" with Rinko Kikuchi's Mako Mori in his old jaeger Gipsy Danger, which finishes off one kaiju by wielding a ship from the Hong Kong harbor likes it's a sword), but PACIFIC ROOM ultimately devolves into complete clichés (any chance Raleigh and a rival jaeger pilot will reach a mutual understanding of one another?).  The last 30 minutes of the film is little but clanking noise, whether it's the sounds of constant destruction or the characters yelling every predictable line of dialogue, which usually has someone bellowing "Let's do this!" or "Let's finish this!"  The actors do a good job, particularly Elba, effectively conveying a stern feeling of no-nonsense authority and putting his personal troubles on the backburner for the sake of humanity.  Perlman is a lot of fun, completely stealing the few scenes he's in, with his first appearance an hour in actually getting applause from the audience.

At its core, PACIFIC RIM is a B-movie.  But with no expenses spared, it loses some of the feeling of the classic kaiju films that inspired it.  It works best when del Toro is free to be del Toro, but once he starts fulfilling his obligations to Warner Bros. and bringing on the large-scale CGI destruction, it just starts to feel like any other routine Hollywood product.  You can make these things as huge and with as much state-of-the-art technology as possible (and to its credit, PACIFIC RIM's CGI is very well-done), but when you start thinking how much more fun it would be to just watch an old-school Toho GODZILLA flick instead, with guys in rubber suits throwing themselves around a cheap set, well, then something's missing.  I don't mean to be curmudgeonly about it--PACIFIC RIM is an overall entertaining movie with much to like--but it just left me a little cold.  I guess it's a matter of bigger not always being better.

No comments:

Post a Comment